Marcia Webb contends that previous attempts at psychological interpretation of the Book of Job have often focused upon psychoanalytic or psychodynamic analyses of the text. In this essay she attempts instead to integrate biblical analysis of the ancient manuscript with contemporary empirically-based theory from trauma research and religious coping studies from the psychology of religion. Psychological theory describing spiritual struggle, schema reconstruction, adaptive rumination, cognitive flexibility, and post-traumatic growth is discussed. The article then considers the biblical text itself, weaving together insights from both psychological theory and biblical analysis in a review of Job’s experiences from initial trauma through ultimate restoration. Ms. Webb is Associate Professor of Psychology at Seattle Pacific University.

Through the millennia, the biblical story of Job has provided for the Judeo-Christian community a narrative of the complexities of unjust suffering. Intense in both plot and poetry, it sheds light on the mysteries of human sorrow in the context of religious faith. Job has become an exemplar of human suffering without comparison, a personification of our grief and our bafflement about the presence not only of suffering, but of unmerited suffering in a universe guided by a loving, all-powerful and all-knowing God.

Psychological research in recent decades has revealed various facets of the experience of trauma, loss, and coping, which, as I hope to demonstrate, may provide insight into Job’s experience. While earlier attempts at psychological interpretation of the Book of Job have often focused upon psychoanalytic or psychodynamic interpretations of the text, my focus here will be to review the character of Job from the perspective of contemporary empirically-based psychological theory.1 My intent thus is to explore the Book of Job from an integrated perspective, utilizing insights from biblical scholarship and from current psychological research regarding trauma and religious responses to adversity.

This research focus will also be upon experiences of acute adult-onset trauma, rather than complex, childhood trauma. As we shall see, Job’s experiences as described in the biblical text fall within the diagnostic category of traumatic stressors, but not within the further subcategory of complex, or repeated childhood, trauma, which may be described as “the experience of multiple or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature (e.g., sexual or physical abuse, community violence) and early-life onset.”2 Empirical research which considers the potential developmental impact of complex, childhood trauma upon one’s faith experience is in its infancy, and beyond the scope of the present manuscript.

Traumatic Stressors and the Book of Job

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V, a standard resource for mental health professionals, notes that traumatic events which may predispose a person to develop post-traumatic stress disorder

include, but are not limited to, exposure to war as a combatant or civilian, threatened or actual physical assault … threatened or actual sexual violence, being kidnapped, being taken hostage, terrorist attack, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war, natural or human-made disasters, and severe motor vehicle accidents. … Medical incidents that qualify as traumatic events involve sudden, catastrophic events. … Witnessed events include, but are not limited to, observed threatened or serious injury, unnatural death, physical or sexual abuse of another person due to violent assault, domestic violence, accident, war or disaster, or a medical catastrophe in one’s child. Indirect exposure through learning about an event [includes and] is limited to experiences affecting close relatives or friends and experiences that are violent or accidental. … Such events include violent personal assault, suicide, serious accident, and serious injury.3

From a contemporary diagnostic perspective, it seems evident that Job’s experiences qualify as traumatic stressors. What might strike the reader as particularly unusual about Job’s experience, however, is the sheer number of stressors he experienced, and thus the comprehensive nature of his suffering. Yet, while the plotline of the story may seem hyperbolic in nature, a survey of psychological research suggests that the repercussions of even a single event of adversity may be multi-faceted and potentially all-encompassing. Trauma researchers have noted, “it is possible that some types of traumatic event[s] contain multiple types of stressor[s] that may intensify, compound, and make more severe an individual’s reactions and problems of adaptation following the event.”4 This may be particularly apparent in situations involving natural disasters or national crises, where persons suffer losses in potentially every area of life. However, even in isolated instances, individuals may experience a series of cascading misfortunes.

A hypothetical example might demonstrate the multifaceted repercussions of seemingly isolated adverse events. Consider, for instance, the situation of a male in his late twenties in treatment for a brain injury which resulted from an automobile accident. The injury produced significant impairments in the young man’s ability to concentrate and to recall visual, verbal, or procedural information. Although still quite intelligent, and well trained as a computer programmer, his memory failures impeded his ability to perform at his job in the high-tech industry; he found managing even the simple details of numerous everyday events overwhelming. Compelled then to leave his career, his financial options also narrowed markedly, despite an insurance settlement. Thus he moved from his apartment and resettled into the home of his parents. His family believed this was the wisest option, particularly after an incident during which he had begun cooking and forgotten he left the stove burning for several hours. As a consequence of his new financial and vocational limitations, as well as his interpersonal dependency, this young man was now uncertain about prior hopes eventually to marry and to start a family. In support of these doubts, a previous girlfriend ended their relationship a few months after the accident. She stated that she felt unable to handle the changes in his life. Echoing the succession of distressing events in the Book of Job, this man also experienced losses in several areas of life, medically, financially, vocationally, and socially. Like Job, he stood stunned before the spreading impact of stressor upon stressor in his life, unable either to foresee or to prevent each new loss.

Psychological theory generally presumes that human life is an integration of multiple levels of experience – medically, psychologically, socially, spiritually, educationally, vocationally, financially, and politically – each of which co-mingle with the other, such that alterations occurring at one level of experience necessarily impact other levels. Suffering, then, may involve an assault in one realm of experience which may very likely permeate other arenas of an individual’s life, producing ever-enlarging, concentric circles of sorrow. Although some might view Job as an exemplar of suffering, whose tragedies far exceed the normal, clinical evidence might instead suggest that the extent of his losses is – tragically – not entirely all that uncommon in human experience.

Trauma Theory and the Book of Job

When cataloguing the losses that Job endured, commentators have noted that one of Job’s most dramatic losses involves the loss of his treasured relationship with God.5 What had become of the God Job once knew? We hear his lament, “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me… when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house…” (29:2, 4).6

Job’s loss of his former sense of God may reflect another element of traumatic experience described by trauma theory. A variety of studies have demonstrated that traumatized individuals may experience major shifts in worldview assumptions and disruptions in fundamental belief systems.7 From the perspective of trauma theory, Job’s cognitive assumptions regarding God, particularly those involving the nature of God’s justice, are suddenly and radically challenged by his experience of trauma.

In order to describe Job’s cognitive experience, a brief explanation of trauma theory is warranted. Trauma theory derives its understanding of cognitive restructuring in part from that domain of psychology known as schema theory. Schema theory assumes that individuals necessarily construct schemas, or abstract cognitive representations of reality, which are then encoded in memory and recalled as needed to explain and predict life events. These models are intricately networked to provide coherent, comprehensive structures of meaning. Yet they are not necessarily accurate in their depictions of reality, nor are they entirely conscious to the individual who adopts them. Even so, schemas are invaluable assistants in an individual’s attempt to interpret and manage everyday experience. They provide a means by which the countless, infinitesimal, moment-by-moment experiences of life are rapidly and predictably deciphered, processed, and catalogued in memory.8 Without the efficiency provided by schemas, even the most commonplace of daily events would provide for the individual an overwhelming and unmanageable array of sensory information; the continual, and largely unconscious, process of categorization and explanation of life events which marks human experience would suddenly be impossible.

People are generally resistant to alterations in schematic constructions, however distorted those constructions may be.9 This resistance has been labeled cognitive conservatism.10 As an analogy of this resistance, consider the notion of the scientific paradigm, as described by Thomas Kuhn.11 Even as professional scientists may cling tenaciously to a given theory, despite the pressure of increasingly anomalous (or contradictory) evidence, so the amateur, everyday, lay scientist – that is, the man or the woman on the street – clings tenaciously to various assumptions about reality, however illusory or insupportable those assumptions may be.
Enter trauma. Traumatic events, by their very nature – dramatic, disorienting, overwhelming, unpredictable, uncontrollable – have a way of refusing to conform neatly to a person’s previously held assumptions, however firmly established they may be. Research demonstrates that traumatic events do have the power to break through even the most rigidly held cognitive distortions. Resisting integration into the cognitive system, they may begin a general process of shutdown among adaptive functioning as a whole, forcing a confrontation between the individual and a potentially stark reality.12 For example, individuals with the unconscious assumption of exaggerated personal control may be challenged through traumatic events by the sudden, shocking and unpleasant reality of human frailty.

This change is not typically instantaneous. Researchers have described cognitive strategies such as denial or avoidance in the immediate aftermath of trauma which may allow individuals to adapt to threatening new information at a reduced, and thus more manageable, pace.13 In research, denial is often described as a lack of negative affect toward the traumatic event, but it may also include a conscious or unconscious failure to accept the reality of the trauma, its significance, or its long-term consequences; alternatively, avoidance may be characterized by the conscious refusal to think or speak about the traumatic event.14 Unlike the defense mechanism of “denial” described by psychoanalytic theory, contemporary researchers suggest that this temporary phase of denial or avoidance may not be pathological, unless unduly prolonged. It may in fact be adaptive and necessary, as recently traumatized individuals are offered the opportunity to continue to respond somewhat normally (albeit perhaps automatically) to the world around them, while they gather the internal strength and the external resources required to confront the challenges of the trauma before them.15

Among those challenges, trauma may ultimately invoke for the individual a crisis of meaning. The traumatized person is bewildered by a myriad of new questions. How could this have happened? Is life worth living, are people worth trusting, now that this has happened? Is it possible to maintain genuine hope in a world where this type of event can occur? Is there still meaning in life despite these events?16 Considering again the Kuhnian analogy, this crisis is not unlike that which occurs in scientific disciplines when it is no longer possible to marginalize anomalous material. Indeed, traumatic events may be described as those anomalies that refuse to be dismissed. Instead, the anomalous now holds center stage; in the Kuhnian portrait of science, as in the traumatized individual, the anomaly becomes the point of rotation for the newly emerging trajectory of future developments in understanding.

Spiritual Struggle and Post-traumatic Growth

These crises of meaning may further include challenges to existing schemas about transcendent, spiritual realities. While religious schemas generally provide individuals with “orienting systems”17 that often function in a stress-buffering role, these orienting systems are not invulnerable to external pressures. Stressful life events, such as traumatic events, can produce a strain on orienting systems of faith, resulting in reduced overall coping for the individual at a time when maximal coping responses are necessary. Researchers have described this response to adversity as spiritual struggle. Persons involved in spiritual struggle may feel disappointed or angry with God, wondering how God – that is, the God represented within their religious schemas – could permit the traumatic event. They may also experience disillusionment with the religious community and, ultimately, even loss of faith.18 Unfortunately, spiritual struggle itself may eventually develop into a chronic stressor, further exacerbating the individual’s overall psychological strain.19

Yet other religious persons report enduring faith in response to adversity, and even post-traumatic growth, demonstrated by psychological adaptation exceeding pre-trauma levels of functioning.20 Indeed, research suggests that more than half of those persons who experience trauma report the paradoxical experience of eventual benefit from the event.21 Curiously, the severity of the trauma appears to be related both to greater risk for psychopathology and greater potential for stress-related growth.22 Benefits accrued through the process of coping with trauma include increased appreciation for those elements of life which may have once been considered ordinary, and perhaps taken for granted, including a renewed sense of spiritual transcendence.23 In addition, trauma survivors may report a reassessment of the fundamental meaning of their lives, resulting perhaps in a redirection of life focus, as they seek new purpose, potentially even through their suffering.24

Evidence has also begun to surface demonstrating that personal growth following trauma may be facilitated in part by at least two processes: adaptive rumination and cognitive flexibility. While research has demonstrated that simple, automatic, rote rumination about negative life events can prove problematic for coping, adaptive rumination as a process allows the individual to reconsider the assumptions of previously held schemas and rebuild new, more comprehensive, more resilient schemas. Adaptive rumination may be a distressing, but still necessary, process following the experience of trauma.25

Like adaptive rumination, cognitive flexibility also appears to facilitate post-traumatic growth; this skill includes both the capacity to assess for the possibility of alternative solutions when problem solving, and the cognitive adaptability to test those various solutions.26 Cognitive flexibility is the facility to “switch cognitive sets,”27 rather than to remain paralyzed in rigid adherence to a single, limited cognitive set which cannot address the individual’s current problem-solving needs. In the event of trauma, these cognitive sets may include, for example, individuals’ schemas of themselves, of universal justice, and of God. Thus, cognitive flexibility may ultimately aid in the ability to tolerate the ambiguity and complexity of human experience, including the possibility of paradox or mystery in suffering.28

Language may play a prominent role as a facilitator of cognitive complexity and adaptive rumination. Multiple studies have demonstrated that verbal disclosure of traumatic events, both oral and written, is associated with improved mental health outcomes.29 Yet it is not simply emotional expression regarding the trauma which provides this benefit. Instead, verbalization offers a venue for individuals to consider different possibilities in assessing both the potential causes and future significance of the trauma they have endured. Through the complexity of language, individuals may explore the nuances and subtleties of their experiences. They may make fine distinctions among categories of events which help them to process and organize the experience of trauma cognitively, situating these events in the larger context of an entire life story and sense of self.30

Unfortunately, it may be just at the point of trauma when linguistic comprehension is the most taxed, and the strength to begin the process of this analysis is the most difficult to summon. While language allows individuals to catalogue their experience in diverse and complex ways, trauma – as cognitive material which cannot immediately be integrated into broader schematic representations of reality – may be accompanied by sudden language deficits.31 Individuals find themselves “without words” to describe their experience; nothing they have experienced is comparable to the traumatic event; they have no reference point when they survey even the seeming plethora of word choices available to them. Perhaps it is no wonder that Annie Rogers describes the language of trauma as the language of the “unsayable.”32 Yet, for healing to begin, these persons must press on, developing, as it were, a new language, even as they develop new schemas, and thus new conceptualizations of the world around them.

Thus, as research is now demonstrating, adversity appears to present not only personal loss, but also the potential for eventual personal gain. With the ultimate abandonment of earlier, and perhaps deficient, assumptions about reality, individuals confronting trauma may seek new opportunities to experiment with, and hopefully to embrace, a more comprehensive and constructive understanding of themselves, their world, and their God.

Given this theoretical framework regarding trauma-induced schematic crisis and spiritual struggle, how might the reader understand events described in the Book of Job? Are there pre-existing cognitive constructions about God, justice, and the world to which Job adhered, which were challenged by the multiple traumas Job suffered? Does Job experience spiritual struggle, but eventually emerge from this struggle, demonstrating post-traumatic growth? How is this struggle, and this potential growth, manifested in the narrative?

To answer these questions, we must turn to the text itself, which provides us with a considerable amount of information – schematic data, if you will – outlining the fundamental assumptions held by its various characters regarding the nature of reality, of justice, and of God’s activity in the universe.

Trauma-Induced Schematic Crisis in the Book of Job

In the introductory chapters (ch. 1-2), we read, in rapid succession, tales of the death of Job’s children, servants, and livestock, as well as the destruction of Job’s property. In domino fashion, the text describes the traumas that befall the “blameless” man (1:1), leaving the reader hardly a breath to recover from one disaster before the next is announced. Finally, Job is afflicted with a painful, disfiguring disease.

Initially, Job responds to these events as might be expected, given the research regarding the immediate impact of trauma. Alarmed and bewildered, perhaps still reeling from the news of these disasters, Job reacts with his customary faith in Yahweh. With his belief as the foundation of his every breath, he knows no other course of action. The reality of his new circumstances has only begun to seep into his awareness. Thus he continues to affirm, as he has so many times over the years, the authority of the Almighty. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). But this automatic response will ultimately give way to more fervent, and more distressing, proclamations from Job as time passes, and as the magnitude of his losses becomes increasingly clear to him.

Job’s friends visit him intending to provide comfort. Yet they respond to him in a most unexpected way; the text reports that they “could hardly recognize him …and…they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (2:12-13). Perhaps, mirrored in the expressions on his friends’ faces, Job sees the inescapable reality of his desperate situation. Now we are confronted with utter silence, with the sudden, shocking acknowledgement of the “unsayable.”33 As trauma theory might predict, when first presented with Job’s suffering, his friends find themselves beyond the capacity for speech. Without words, stunned and immobilized before the enormity of Job’s calamities, the biblical characters reflect the psychological truth that silence in the presence of trauma is not about nothing; on the contrary, it signifies the magnitude of the situation before them. So vast and terrible is Job’s suffering, that seven days elapse before the narrator describes any further action in the tale.34

Yet it is at this point that we encounter a curious detail regarding the external structure of the text. When the characters do begin to speak, their speeches suddenly comprise the entirety of the story. Moving from prose to poetry, chapter 3 begins an extended dialogue between Job, his friends, Elihu, and ultimately Yahweh. The events described here are almost entirely verbal, as each speaker challenges the others with emotional appeals, rational defenses, heated arguments, and illustrative examples. While the biblical author might have elected various means to relate this tale, it is by the mechanism of dialogue – and dialogue in significant detail – that the bulk of the narrative conveys its meaning. It is through dialogue that we discern the content of the schemas which each character relates; and it is through dialogue, his dialogue with Yahweh, that Job ultimately finds peace.

As trauma theory might suggest, this intense emphasis on verbalization allows for extensive evaluation of the cognitive assumptions presented in the tale. Just as physical activity ceased after the reporting of Job’s multiple traumas in the introductory chapters, physical activity will not begin again until the resolution of Job’s schematic crisis at the end of the book. In the dialogues, the biblical author brings the reader to a standstill with Job; in his immobility, in the immobility of his friends, we sense the overwhelming, paralyzing nature of the dilemma they face, and the one possible means by which they apparently believe they might remobilize themselves: cognitive mastery of the elusive nature of the truth behind Job’s suffering.

In these dialogues, Job and his friends engage in detailed debate regarding the nature of God’s justice. These debates represent complex efforts in schema testing, as each speaker presents elements of his conceptions of God and of universal justice. While they appear to be locked in bitter opposition, the dialogues reveal commonalities in their basic assumptions about reality. Both Job and his friends assume that reality should conform to standards of reward and retribution. Events should unfold according to a standard of justice for each person. Blessing should necessarily follow the righteous, while adversity should befall the wicked. The formula is simple: goodness should reap reward, and sin, punishment.35 Biblical scholar David Clines sums up this formula with a tidy theological phrase: the doctrine of retribution.36

Assumptions within this doctrine are consistent with a vast deal of psychological research demonstrating the general tendency for individuals to overestimate the relationship between our actions and events in our lives. Indeed, so inflated may be our sense of control, we may presume that by conducting our lives in certain ways, we can prevent our suffering; unfortunately, one consequence of this assumption is that we also imagine we are in some way to blame for those misfortunes that do befall us.37 This exaggerated belief in our control can manifest itself in various forms, both religious and nonreligious. Researchers have noted, for example, that individuals may employ religious schemas as a means by which to maintain a sense of control in a universe which may otherwise feel overwhelming and unmanageable.38 Thus, for believers like Job’s friends, a religious schema may include the principle, assumed to be grounded in the authority of God, that goodness will always be rewarded and sin punished.

Yet, when we move from this general principle to the concrete example of Job’s suffering, the situation is no longer that simple. It is here that we find disagreement between Job and his friends. Given their assumption that justice in the world should be a predictable outcome of a person’s character and behavior, the friends conclude that Job must be deserving of his tragedies. Some hidden sin, some secret transgression, accounts for Job’s adversity. From the perspective of trauma theory, the friends display cognitive conservatism, the tendency to adhere to formerly held assumptions about reality, despite the anomalous evidence of their knowledge of the moral character of Job (see, for example, Eliphaz’s comments in 4:3-4, 6). Lacking cognitive flexibility, perhaps it is easier for them to believe that Job has sinned rather than that the universe is unfair.

For Job, the situation is not so straightforward. Pre-trauma, it seems Job also assumed, like the friends, that God was just, and that events in a person’s life unfolded according to a simple expression of this justice. Surely Job did not take risks with evil; the introductory prologue describes his purification of his children and the various “pre-emptive”39 sacrifices Job offered based only on the mere possibility that one of them had “sinned or cursed God” (1:5). Yet, it seems his rituals protected him from nothing. Job has not only suffered; he feels certain he has suffered as an innocent man. This conviction challenges Job’s schematic representations of God. This is information – a bit of anomalous data, if you will – possessed by Job, an amateur, everyday scientist and schema constructor, which neither the friends nor Elihu have access to in the same way that Job does. Now that the anomaly of undeserved suffering has catapulted itself into his experience, Job is suddenly confronted with a crisis in his worldview. How can an innocent person suffer in a universe guided by predictable structures of reward and retribution? How can God – a God who is just and who therefore must reward good and punish evil – permit the suffering of innocent persons?40 How can the righteous God he once knew be the same unjust God he now encounters? How is he to account for the massive discrepancy in his understanding of God pre- and post-trauma? In this dilemma, we see the germ of his schematic crisis, and it is in this crisis that the process of cognitive restructuring begins, a process that while cognitive in nature, is hardly emotionally neutral. Trauma researcher Ronnie Janoff-Bulman writes:

The victim [of trauma] is stuck between two untenable cognitive-emotional choices: preexisting assumptions that are no longer viable in describing the world and oneself, and new assumptions that not only involve a total reworking of prior views, but are themselves extremely negative and threatening.41

The “negative and threatening”42 new reality that now looms in Job’s consciousness is that of an unjust God, a God who does not conform to standards of justice and reward. This new God is an object of terror. James Crenshaw comments:

Sometimes Job seems to think his former friend [God] has withdrawn into a cloak of darkness. … At other times Job thinks of God as oppressively near, so close that he can feel the full blast of divine fury. … In either instance, a cherished relationship has gone sour, and Job knows he is not to blame for the change. He can only think the deity has betrayed a trust, even though the very idea of God proving untrue was more than the mind could bear.43

Ultimately, Job will present to his friends a startling, and ostensibly untenable, argument: if an innocent person suffers, then God must be unjust. Contrary to the suppositions of his friends, it is now God, and not Job, who is to blame. Job decries the God of this emerging, new schema; he struggles against the One “who has denied [him] justice,” and “who has made [him] taste bitterness of soul” (27:2).

In a conceptual framework where simple moral retribution accounts for suffering, it is a logical necessity that someone must always be to blame. For the friends, the blame belongs to Job; for Job, the blame now belongs to God. Despite this shifting of responsibility, the underlying assumption of blame remains the same and the search for a villain continues. This search shades the tone of Job’s speeches, which are marked by legal language, as Job characterizes himself as one embroiled in hopeless litigation against God (9:14-17, 20; 19:7; 27:2; 31: 35-37).44 Trauma theorist Serene Jones has noted that traumatic stress often involves the perception that individuals are “threatened by an external force that seeks to annihilate them and against which they are unable to resist and which overwhelms their capacity to cope.”45 For Job, this external force has become, tragically, the Almighty God.

The Dual and Conflicted Portrait of God

Yet the beloved God of Job’s former understanding seems unwilling to disintegrate completely in the face of the anomaly of undeserved suffering, and the contiguous cognitive development of an alternate, menacing Deity. Hints of a vision of the beloved God – albeit indistinct, imprecise, perhaps even distorted or confused in its description – still surface unpredictably in Job’s words.

We see these hints in a variety of passages in which Job apparently vacillates between good God and bad, God the redeemer, and God the destroyer. Listen to the fluctuation in his images as he addresses the Almighty in this passage:

If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!…I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin. But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope. You overpower him once for all, and he is gone. (14:14b-20a)

In these words, Job yearns for death, that somehow beyond death, there might be some reprieve from the heavy hand of the Almighty upon him. Job 46 Perhaps this God will appear – a mysterious, even impossible, God – one who neither condemns Job, nor is worthy of condemnation. But how can this be? Such a God is no longer confined within the limited structures of the schemas of either Job or his friends; such a God extends beyond all that Job has ever understood.

We encounter Job’s dual and conflicted portrait of the Almighty again in a later passage in the text. Job offers this plea, “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh?” (19:21-22) Yet, in the same speech, Job attests,

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart years within me! (19:25-27)

Despite the plethora of interpretations of these verses, and the various identities assigned to the redeemer (Heb. go’el), many commentators have suggested the redeemer is indeed God.47 Job’s testimony in these verses that he “will see him with my own eyes” (19:27) foreshadows his eventual confrontation with the Almighty when Yahweh appears in a whirlwind (ch 38ff), which Job does later describes using the phrase, “my eyes have seen you” (42:5).

While some readers may view these various passages as disappointing examples of inconsistency in the scriptural narrative, these seeming irregularities are not unexpected from the perspective of trauma theory. Immersed in the conflict between competing schematic representations of reality, individuals do not move neatly from one set of worldview assumptions to another. Cognition in response to trauma can be an enormously messy enterprise. I argue that the discrepancies in Job’s language are in fact evidence for the psychological validity of his experience (or, if you will, the psychological validity of the biblical author’s personal acquaintance with suffering); it is not the case that persons generally proceed in rational, orderly, sequential trajectories from the worldview-shattering experience of trauma to emotional and cognitive resolution.48 Gustavo Gutiérrez noted these seeming inconsistencies and also commented upon their importance for interpretation of the biblical text:

It might almost be said that Job, as it were, splits God in two and produces a God who is judge and a God who will defend him at that supreme moment; a God whom he experiences as almost an enemy but whom he knows at the same time to be truly a friend. … This painful, dialectical approach to God is one of the most profound messages of the Book of Job.49

From the perspective of trauma theory, it might be argued as well that the friends may serve in the narrative as analogies of various cognitive positions, considering different theological arguments regarding the justice of God and the reality of suffering. While perhaps not intended by the original author of the text, the friends and Job as a unit may represent the content of much of the cognitive-emotional torment experienced within the one mind of the believer engaged in spiritual struggle. In the conscious life of the believing individual confronting adversity, we may find the tendency to rotate chaotically from blaming self to blaming Other, from harboring self-doubt to proclaiming innocence, from hunting for personal sin to demanding personal justice, and from seeking God the redeemer to denouncing God the destroyer.

Patience in the Book of Job 1

Perhaps it is within this context, then, that we need to consider the New Testament author James’ comments about the patience, or the perseverance, of Job (James 5:11).50 A casual scanning of the Book of Job calls into question any notion that the term utilized here (Gr. hypomonē) is a reference to emotional restraint or stoicism. Instead, according to Susan Garrett, the literal meaning of the Greek word is “steadfastness,” “standing fast,” or “energetic resistance to hostile forces,” a quality highly prized in the ancient world.51

Is Job’s patience his steadfastness, demonstrated in those rare, confused, perhaps even distorted moments of buoying hope amid his raging sea of despair? Recall another biblical character whose “energetic resistance”52 won him the title of one who “struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28), a father in the faith, Israel. Before his feared encounter with Esau, Jacob said to God, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). We sense the same persistence in Job, who also would not let God go, but again and again sought an answer from the Almighty. While seemingly paradoxical, perhaps this is the curious nature of love involving imperfect creatures; Job’s relentless pursuit of the Almighty, even in anger, betrays his continuing devotion to his God.

The question then emerges: if Job had entirely succumbed to his suspicions of God as a destroyer, would he have been so free with his complaint? Job’s continual clamoring for an answer from God was only possible if at some level he still believed in God’s benevolence. Surely only a good God would have endured such a ruckus. The ancient world was not without its images of deities who were capricious and violent, deities not inclined to tolerate the raucous spiritual crises of lower beings.53

Consider for a moment that the dialogues between Job and his friends comprise an exhausting thirty-five chapters of argument, with the occasional hurling of insults, a good portion of which are directed toward Yahweh. And not all of these affronts are found in the mouth of Job; at the end of the book, Yahweh reports displeasure with the friend’s comments regarding divine justice.

Perhaps then it is appropriate to reflect also upon the patience of God when describing the Book of Job. Is God like the long-suffering parent, who stands at the bottom of the stairs, listening while the children in the bedroom on the second floor above – sent to bed some time ago – are still awake and fighting? Does God, like the parent, wait to see if the children will eventually tire and settle themselves in their beds, perhaps even reconciling with one another? Does God, like the parent, hear instead their jeering and their taunts, their quarreling about the parent’s treatment of them, and the continuing escalation of their hostility, only to decide finally to ascend the stairs, to stand in the doorframe of the bedroom, and to call out loudly enough to be heard over the children’s commotion, “Hey, what is going on in here? Who is making all this noise?!” (Or, as the Scriptures read, “Who is this that darkens my counsel…?” Job 38:2)

Resolution and Schema Reconstruction in Job

It is the emergence of the Lord in the whirlwind (ch. 38ff) that precipitates Job’s cognitive shift toward a larger, more comprehensive model of God – one that can accommodate even the seemingly impossible reality of the suffering of the righteous, with neither God nor Job to blame. For Job, like for many trauma survivors, there is a moment of insight, a restructuring of the problem.

From the whirlwind, God responds to Job’s complaint, describing the magnificence and power of the created world. One of the notable characteristics of the divine speeches is the heavy emphasis on the use of questions. It is by means of a succession of questions that Yahweh responds to Job’s complaint:

Who is this that darkens my counsel? (38:1)…Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? (38:4)…Have you ever given orders to the morning? (38:12)…Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? (38: 16)…Have the gates of death been shown to you? (38:17)

Scholars generally agree that the speeches offer an impressive display of the power of Yahweh. Yet, posed as they are in the form of an extended series of questions, these passages do something more. Language again works its charms upon the reader; aided by use of a simple literary device, the question, the text conveys the inscrutable nature of the divine.54 It betrays a sense of that which is, and always will remain, unanswerable, highlighting “human incapacity in the face of a divine supercapacity.”55 Even the chaotic and frightening elements of creation – behemoth and leviathan – are portrayed as inexplicable miracles of God’s handiwork. Carol Newsom comments that in the presentation of these monstrous and strange entities, the “numinous, wholly otherness of God” is revealed.56 Yahweh poses this challenge to Job,

Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you…what strength he has in his loins, what power in the muscles of his belly….Can anyone capture him by the eyes, or trap him and pierce his nose? Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?…Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls? (40: 15, 24; 41: 1, 5)

Clearly, Job knows he cannot; yet even as he recognizes his own limitations, he understands the implications behind these questions. There is indeed One who can do all these things, a God of limitless power, a God beyond all Job’s finite imaginings.

Suddenly, into Job’s tightly constricted schema of a universe bound by human conceptions of justice, fueled perhaps by an inflated need for control, and challenged by the experience of undeserved suffering, a new possibility is introduced: mystery. Boundless mystery. Reality is a grander place than he had conceived and, thus, so is the God who created that reality. The implications are clear: if Job cannot understand the natural world around him, how can he ever understand the supernatural mind of God?57

In response to Yahweh’s speeches, Job is overwhelmed. God has flexed the divine muscle before his servant Job, not to bolster the divine ego, not even to terrify his servant, but to expand Job’s vision. But if Job is terrified, his terror is not without hope. For if this God can “make a pet” of even those dreadful and fearsome elements of the natural world – both behemoth and leviathan, this God can “make a pet” of suffering and injustice, too (41:5).

Job acknowledges, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (42: 3-5). Trauma theory might suggest that with these words, we see Job’s increasing awareness of the incomprehensibility of God, and thus, the beginning of a reordering of schematic conceptions of divine justice. Job contrasts his former rubric of God’s justice with Yahweh’s present Self-revelation, which cannot be contained within a simple moral formula.

Job then offers a concluding declaration (42:6) which may be among the most pivotal – and the most contested – verses in the book.58 A traditional rendering of the declaration reads: “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” The debates surrounding this verse hinge initially upon the verb translated as “despise myself.” Yet this verb is not ordinarily reflexive, and the text provides no direct object. Translators have inserted the pronoun “myself” in response to this absence.59 Samuel Balantine suggests, however, that the term (Heb. mā’as) means to reject or to recant, and that the surrounding context indicates that it would be better interpreted as meaning that Job rejected or recanted his “words.”60 If we consider the importance of fine distinctions in language for cognitive restructuring following trauma, we also recognize the enormous therapeutic implications for understanding the initial phrase in this verse to mean “I reject/ recant my words” rather than “I despise myself.”

Scholars have additionally been challenged by that portion of the verse traditionally rendered as “repent in dust and ashes.” The Hebrew term translated as “repent” in this phrase is multifaceted in meaning. It may indicate the act of regretting, of grieving, of retraction, or of relenting.61 John Willis contends, however, that its essential meaning involves a “change of mind…a turning away from an earlier decision on the part of someone deeply moved…”62 Curiously, the same Hebrew term is used even of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Jonah bemoans that God repented of his decision to bring wrath upon the Ninevites (Jonah 4:2).63

Ballantine further suggests that these words would be more accurately translated as “repent concerning dust and ashes” (Heb. niḥamti‘ al- ‘āpār wā’ēper);64 in other words, Job surrenders his former understanding of the human condition.65 Job “has changed his mind about ‘dust and ashes’…the phrase ‘dust and ashes’ does not refer to physical dust but rather to the mortal state of human beings.”66 The Hebrew term for “repent” in this verse may also connote the act of being comforted, as it is found in Jeremiah 31:15, in which Rachel refuses “to be comforted.”67 Scholars then consider one valid interpretation of Job’s concluding statement to be, “‘Therefore I retract my words, and I am comforted concerning dust and ashes’ (i.e., the human condition).”68

What are we to make of these final comments from Job? Of course, translations must remain faithful to the original Hebrew; unfortunately, attempts at faithfulness can, at times, produce a rendering of the text that seems foreign and unnatural to the contemporary lay reader. With this predicament in mind, I offer the following paraphrase of Job’s words: I take back what I said about you (that you were unjust or cruel). My heart is moved. My mind is changed. I am comforted just to be human (and no longer to demand to understand the things of God) (42:6).

Although the interpretation of this phrase may remain an enigma, likely to be disputed by scholars for years to come, it seems clear at the very least that Job’s words signal his forfeiture of “the entire structure of the world as mirroring moral retribution.”69 Job has discovered that “deserving does not run the world.”70 He realizes Yahweh is not a God he can control, engaging as he once did in “preemptive” 71 acts of religious sacrifice. The justice of God is not confined to the mundane predictability of a formula, however reasonable that formula may seem. Job has reconsidered his role as a limited human within the vast expanses of the universe, a universe held firmly in the grip of the Almighty God. He has recognized the fallacy of his earlier assumptions regarding God’s justice. Of course, when he made these assumptions, he was not alone. Roland Murphy comments,

The history of several religions has revealed a firm tendency among human beings: the restriction of the divinity….Humans seem fundamentally unable to tolerate a God who is truly free. He must act according to the definition laid down by them. Human concepts of justice and love become the framework, even the cage of divinity….The very understandable desire for certainty and security leads to a description of a God that is firm and reliable – and thereby void of mystery.72

Job’s new awareness of God – based now on God’s paradoxical revelation of the impenetrability of the divine – does allow for mystery. Put simply, Job can accept that God alone is God. Although it may be the nature of humanity to seek control and order, it is perhaps also the nature of the Almighty to defy all earthly definition. Job cannot domesticate the divine but must instead accept the necessarily elusive, unfettered – even the wild – character of God. He must further recognize the frailty and finitude of his own humanity. Strangely, there is comfort in this; how can he bear the burden of the divine upon his shoulders, attempting to manage his fate and the fate of all his family? Comprehending, as he does now, that a mighty Yahweh firmly holds the reigns of all the universe, Job experiences a sudden, previously unknown, freedom to let go. With this fresh appreciation of God as truly God, the Scriptures tell us that Job returns to his family, his home, and even his friends, to begin life anew.

Job’s transformation is evident at the end of the narrative in his decision to grant an inheritance to his daughters along with his sons (Job 42:15). This decision is not in strict accordance to the religious laws of the day; the man who once tried to ensure the well-being of his family through absolute adherence to the law might not have chosen this course of action previously. Instead, his decision demonstrates his new freedom to appreciate the spirit of the law. In that spirit, despite the patriarchal society in which he lived, he gives generously to all his children, both male and female.73

Conclusion

The Book of Job is a testament to the mystery of human suffering in the context of fervent religious faith. This essay attempts to describe Job’s process from the dual perspectives of biblical scholarship and psychological science, weaving together insights from trauma theory and theological analysis of the ancient text.

As believers, we are often bewildered by the extent and depth of suffering in our world. Yet we are not alone in our bewilderment; millennia ago, the character of Job stood here before us. His cries to God provide a passionate unfolding of humanity’s search for understanding. Despite the passage of time, he still speaks for each of us in his sorrow, his anger, his desperation, his hope, and ultimately also, in his attainment of peace.74

Cite this article
Marcia Webb, “The Book of Job: A Psychologist Takes a Whirlwind Tour”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 44:2 , 155-174

Footnotes

  1. The reader may wish to explore other attempts at psychological interpretation of the Book of Job. M. A. Corey’s text, Job, Jonah, and the Unconscious: A Psychological Interpretation of Evil and Spiritual Growth in the Old Testament (New York: University Press of America, 1995) and Jeffrey Boss’ text, Human Consciousness of God in the Book of Job (New York: Continuum, 2010) both draw upon C. G. Jung’s theoretical analysis of Job. In addition, Jack H. Kahn’s work, Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief, and Integration. A Psychological Interpretation (London: Pergamon Press, 1986) presents a broader psychoanalytic viewpoint, with insights from both Freud and Jung.
  2. Joseph Spinazzola, Julian D. Ford, Marla Zucker, Bessel A. van der Kolk, et al., “Survey Evaluates Complex Trauma Exposure, Outcome, and Intervention among Children and Adolescents,” Psychiatric Annals 35.5 (2005): 433-439.
  3. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, V (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000), 274-275.
  4. John P. Wilson and Melissa R. Sigman, “Theoretical Perspectives of Traumatic Stress and Debriefings,” in Psychological Debriefing: Theory, Practice, and Evidence, eds. Beverley Raphael and John P. Wilson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 63.
  5. J. Gerald Janzen, At the Scent of Water: The Ground of Hope in the Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 82; John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 227.
  6. Biblical verses cited in this article are from Kenneth Barker, ed., Reflecting God Study Bible, The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1995).
  7. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Shattered Assumptions: Toward a New Psychology of Trauma (New York: Free Press, 1992), 70-90; Irene Smith Landsman, “Crises of Meaning in Trauma and Loss,” in Loss of the Assumptive World: A Theory of Traumatic Loss, ed. Jeffrey Kaufman (New York: Brunner-Rutledge, 2002), 17-19.
  8. Janoff-Bulman, 3-25.
  9. Ibid., 26-48; Cordelia Fine, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), 79-104.
  10. Janoff-Bulman, 26.
  11. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago University Press, 1962). Janoff-Bulman also compares schema change and Kuhn (27, 43).
  12. Janoff-Bulman, 51; Landsman, 17-19.
  13. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and Christine Timko, “Coping with Traumatic Life Events: The Role of Denial in Light of People’s Assumptive Worlds,” in Coping with Negative Life Events, eds. C. R. Snyder and Carol E. Ford (New York: Plenum Press, 1987), 142-153.
  14. Ibid., 144, 148, 149.
  15. Ibid., 146-147.
  16. Janoff-Bulman, 93-94; Landsman, 20-21.
  17. Kenneth I. Pargament, The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice (New York: Guilford, 1997), 100.
  18. Pargament, 100; Donald Edmondson, Crystal L. Park, Stephanie R. Chaudoir, and Jennifer H. Wortman, “Death Without God: Religious Struggle, Death Concerns, and Depression in the Terminally Ill,” Psychological Science 19.8 (2008): 754-758; Julia J. Exline, Ann Marie Yali, and Marci Lobel, “When God Disappoints,” Journal of Health Psychology 4 (1999): 365-379; Kenneth Doka, “How Could God? Loss and the Spiritual Assumptive World,” in Loss of the Assumptive World: A Theory of Traumatic Loss, ed. Jeffrey Kaufman (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2002), 51-52.
  19. Julia J. Exline and Alyce Martin, “Anger Toward God: A New Frontier in Forgiveness Research,” in Handbook of Forgiveness, ed. E. L. Worthington, Jr. (New York: Routledge, 2005), 73-88; Benjamin Wood, Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Julia J. Exline, Ann Marie Yali, Jamie D. Aten, and Mark R. McMinn, “Development, Refinement, and Psychometric Properties of the Attitudes Toward God Scale (ATGS-9),” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 2:3 (2010): 148-167.
  20. Kenneth I. Pargament, Nalini Tarakeshwar, Christopher G. Ellison, and Keith M. Wulff, “Religious Coping Among the Religious: The Relationships Between Religious Coping and Well-Being in a National Sample of Presbyterian Clergy, Elders, and Members,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40.3 (2001): 497-512; Kenneth I. Pargament, Brian J. Zinnabauer, Allie B. Scott, Eric M. Butter, Jill Zerowin, and Patricia Stanik, “Red Flags and Religious Coping: Identifying Some Religious Warning Signs Among People in Crisis,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 54.1 (1998): 77-89; Marcia Webb, Chris A. Sink, Russell A. McCann, Sarah A. Chickering, and Michelle J. Scallon, “The Suffering with God Scale: Theoretical Development, Psychometric Analyses, and Relationships with Indices of Religiosity,” Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 21 (2010): 71-94; Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, “Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence,” Psychological Inquiry, 15.1(2004): 1-18.
  21. John A. Updegraff and Shelly E. Taylor, “From Vulnerability to Growth: Positive and Negative Effects of Stressful Life Events,” in Loss and Trauma, eds. John H. Harvey and Eric D. Miller (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2000), 4.
  22. Ibid., 18.
  23. Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1-18.
  24. Janoff-Bulman and Berger, 32-33; Janoff-Bulman, 134-139.
  25. Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1-18.
  26. Janoff-Bulman, 173; Julia J. Exline, Crystal L. Park, Joshua M. Smyth, and Michael P. Carey, “Anger Toward God: Social-Cognitive Predictors, Prevalence, and Links with Adjustment to Bereavement and Cancer,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100.1 (2011): 129-148.
  27. John P. Dennis and Jillon S. Vander Wal, “The Cognitive Flexibility Inventory: Instrument Development and Estimates of Reliability and Validity,” Cognitive Therapy and Research 34.3 (2010): 241.
  28. Russell A. McCann and Marcia Webb, “Enduring and Struggling with God in Relation to Traumatic Symptoms: The Mediating and Moderating Roles of Cognitive Flexibility” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 4.2 (2012): 143-153.
  29. See, for example, James W. Pennebaker, ed., Emotion, Disclosure, & Health (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1995). However, not all forms of verbal expression have been associated with positive mental health outcomes. For example, persons involved in ongoing trauma may not benefit from a verbal review of events when more practical efforts toward survival and coping are necessary; additionally, some theorists have described concerns that persons may use verbal disclosure not to gain insight, and develop communal bonds, but as an effort to maintain a sense of helplessness and potential avoidance of necessary action. See Beverley Raphael and John P. Wilson, eds., Psychological Debriefing: Theory, Practice, and Evidence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  30. James W. Pennebaker and Janel D. Seagal, “Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 55.10 (1999): 1243-1254.
  31. Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2010), 21.
  32. Annie Rogers, The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma (New York: Random House, 2006).
  33. Ibid.
  34. David J. A. Clines comments that seven days is the traditional period for mourning of death, and thus perhaps also symbolizes the magnitude of Job’s losses; see Job 1-20 (Dallas, TX: Word Publishers, 1989), 63.
  35. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, “The God of Job: Avenger, Tyrant, or Victor?” in The Voice From the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job, eds. Leo G. Perdue and W. Clark Gilpin (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1992), 41-42.
  36. Clines, Job 1-20, xxxix.
  37. The doctrine of retribution is conceptually similar to Melvin Lerner’s well-known, empirically established “just world theory,” which he described decades ago in the article by Melvin. J. Lerner and Carolyn H. Simmons, “Observer’s Reaction to the Innocent Victim: Compassion or Rejection?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4.2 (1966): 203-210. For more extensive discussions of this phenomenon, see also Melvin J. Lerner, The Belief in a Just World (New York: Plenum, 1980); Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and Andrea R. Berger, “The Other Side of Trauma: Toward a Psychology of Appreciation,” in Loss and Trauma, eds. John H. Harvey and Eric D. Miller (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2000), 31.
  38. Kenneth I. Pargament, Harold G. Koenig, and Lisa M. Perez, “The Many Methods of Religious Coping: Development and Initial Validation of the RCOPE,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 56.4 (2000): 519-543.
  39. Karen Schifferdecker, Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 108.
  40. Mettinger, 42.
  41. Janoff-Bulman, Shattered Assumptions, 93.
  42. Ibid.
  43. James L. Crenshaw, A Whirlpool of Torment: Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1984), 60-61.
  44. Carol A. Newsom, The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 156-157.
  45. Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 13.
  46. Samuel E. Balantine, Job (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2006), 220.
  47. David Atkinson, The Message of Job: Suffering and Grace (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 93; Balantine, Job, 298; David Wolfers, Deep Things Out of Darkness: The Book of Job / Essays and a New English Translation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 487-488; Hartley, 264. For alternate views on the identity of the redeemer, see, for example, Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 105; or Clines, Job 1-20, 459ff.
  48. Janoff-Bulman, Shattered Assumptions, 170-175.
  49. Gustavo Gutiérrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985), 65.
  50. However, some scholars believe that James was referring not to the biblical Job, but to a character described in a contemporary work, Testament of Job. See, for example, Robert W. Wall, Community of the Wise: The Letter of James (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 1997), 254ff; and Tremper Longman III, Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 2012), 280ff.
  51. Susan R. Garrett, “The Patience of Job and the Patience of Jesus,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology 53.3 (1999): 256.
  52. Ibid.
  53. See, for example, Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), 79.
  54. Newsom, 241.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid., 252.
  57. Roland E. Murphy, The Psalms, Job (Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1946), 75-76.
  58. Balantine, 693. Newsom has described five alternate translations of the verse. See Carol A. Newsom, “The Book of Job,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 4 (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1996), 629, cited in Balantine, 694.
  59. Balantine, 694. For further consideration of this issue, see Jack Miles, God: A Biography (New York: Vintage, 1995), 323ff.
  60. Balantine, 694.
  61. John T. Willis, “The ‘Repentence’ of God in the Books of Samuel, Jeremiah, and Jonah,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 16.2 (1994): 157.
  62. Brian Kelly, “Aquinas on Redemption and Change in God,” Irish Theological Quarterly 58.4 (1992): 249-263, as cited in Willis, 158.
  63. Willis, 157.
  64. Balantine, 695; emphasis in original.
  65. Ibid., 697.
  66. Karen Schifferdecker, 105.
  67. David J. A. Clines, Job 38-42 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 1220; Wolfers, 461.
  68. Newsom, “The Book of Job,” cited in Balantine, 694.
  69. Edwin M. Good, “The Problem of Evil in the Book of Job,” in The Voice From the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job, eds. Leo G. Perdue and W. Clark Gilpin (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1992), 68.
  70. Good, 67.
  71. Schifferdecker, 108.
  72. Murphy, 85.
  73. Balantine, 117.
  74. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the Center for Biblical and Theological Education at Seattle Pacific University for a grant allowing me time to write this manuscript. I would also like to thank Dr. Sara Koenig at Seattle Pacific Seminary, who provided a careful review of the manuscript’s biblical scholarship and who introduced me to the wonderful work of Carol Newsom. I am also grateful to Professor John Swinton at the University of Aberdeen, who offered various thoughtful suggestions for improvements, including a recommendation to read Gustavo Gutiérrez’s important text.

Marcia Webb

Seattle Pacific University
Marcia Webb is Associate Professor of Psychology at Seattle Pacific University.